Specialty coffee shops are beginning to pop up all over the place, and not just in major coastal cities. Flatlands coffee aims to bring high quality coffee and service experience to Bowling Green, Ohio, the home of a humble 30,000 people. Check out their Kickstarter video, explaining the vision and approach of Flatlands.
Flatlands Coffee will be a multi-roaster coffee shop with competition-level baristas, using carefully sourced and roasted beans, on state-of-the-art equipment. We want to not only add to the community of Bowling Green, Ohio, but hope to participate in the progression of the specialty coffee industry as a whole.
An Interview with Ben Vollmar
I was fortunate enough to snag some time from Ben, the visionary behind Flatlands Coffee, and get a few answers to some questions I was dying to ask. Here they are!
1. Ben, you appear very passionate and driven. What has caused you to dive so deeply into the specialty coffee industry as to open your own shop?
At a very young age, I liked going to coffee shops for the atmosphere. It started with visiting shops with my mom, then eventually on my own, once I was in high school. I deeply wanted to join the culture, so I applied at a coffee shop in Perrysburg, Ohio called The Flying Joe and gave them my best until I got the job (continually visiting and meeting employees/ checking status of my application)… this was the first place where I stepped behind an espresso machine.
I had had the thought of opening my own shop before getting this job, but quickly after getting hired, my passion for coffee grew exponentially. I worked at the Flying Joe for nearly six years and as a passionate barista (and probably like most baristas), things would continually cross my mind of what I would do differently if it were my shop. These daydreams built the concept of Fltalands Coffee.
Another pivotal moment was when visiting Intelligentsia’s Monadnock location in Chicago – it was my first time experiencing “3rd-wave,” which made me spiral much deeper into coffee. I was blown away by the distinct atmosphere that spoke quality before I even tried the coffee, the baristas had a deep understanding of what they were serving and could easily communicate the depths of the coffee, …and then it tasted like nothing I had ever experienced before – it was unflavored, but was delicious and sweet! That experience led Flatlands Coffee toward the high-end quality approach.
The other major point that has contributed to our passion of coffee is my wife! The first time I ever had a conversation with her I learned that she wanted to open a traveling flower/coffee cart. Like me, she was excited about the coffee industry and wanted to open her own business, so put together, our drive in coffee just increased.
2. It appears Flat Lands Coffee will be a source of a variety of roasters and coffees. Why have you decided to take this approach instead of partnering with a single roaster?
The multi-roaster approach to Flatlands Coffee is a critical part. Roasters and importers are all striving to find and source the highest quality beans, however many of them may have special relationships with the farmer, which prevents another roaster or importer from getting those beans …or there may be a limited supply of high-quality coffee from an importer that will be bought up by one roaster… plus, coffees may vary in quality from season to season, which further complicates where to find the most delicious coffees. At Flatlands Coffee, we want to offer our customers the best seasonal coffees available across roasters, so we have decided to take he multi-roaster coffee shop a step further by cupping seasonal coffees from several outstanding roasters to decide which coffees to bring in.
There are some disadvantages of the multi-roaster concept, since roasters prefer to have consistent, high-volume business. We have decided to somewhat fight the disadvantage by always having a Counter Culture coffee available – after exploring and tasting coffees from several of the best roasters in the nation, Counter Culture seems to consistently have some coffees that we think are simply bonkers.
3. I have a great respect for passionate people in humble places. Why Bowling Green, Ohio?
The same way I had never experienced high-class quality coffee and was blown away at my first experience, we think will happen in Bowling Green, Ohio. There is currently nothing like the concept we will be bringing here, so it will be radically different.
Bowling Green is the town I am born and raised in, so I am also very familiar with the demographics and have a lot of connections. Overall, I would generalize the town as a down-to-earth, friendly community with a large artistic crowd and a decent college population. It is ready for a quality-focused shop as a place for the community to enjoy.
4. What’s your long-term vision for Flat Lands Coffee?
Overall, it is our dream to heavily invest in our employees to give them the ability to have a career in coffee at Flatlands Coffee. By investing in our employees and in studies of coffee, we hope to perform well in coffee competitions and become known for that.
At our Bowling Green shop, we eventually want to give our customers the ability to see further into the coffee chain by doing nano-roasting in shop (very small batches) However, once again, we never want to fully supply our shop because the multi-roaster approach is critical to our concept.
We also have more ideas that we think is very unique within the specialty coffee industry on the national-level, so we are also considering opening a few shops in bigger cities where there is already a large coffee scene where we can test out these new cutting-edge ideas. We never want to open too many shops though to keep it simple, memorable, and limited. Expanding would also help our partnering roasters as we would have higher demands in quantity even though we are a multi-roaster …so this shop in Bowling Green may be our launching pad.